Monday, January 21, 2013

President Obama's Second Inaugural:Is the long backlash against the 1960’s finally over?

Everyone I know has been echoing the same theme--this is nothing like the euphoria of Inauguration Day, January 2009. True, but in some ways it’s more significant. We’ve re-elected the first African-American president and that’s huge. And although President Obama doesn’t get nearly the credit he deserves, he has a record of real accomplishment.

Inauguration Day, January 2009 was my last semester teaching at Community College and we had classes that day. Although I used to be religious about never canceling classes, I met my students and told them to go watch the Inauguration which was being streamed in the College auditorium.

I still couldn’t quite believe Obama had really won and he really was taking the oath of office. To echo the phrase Michelle Obama was pilloried for, for the first time in my life I was proud of my country. I had been very invested in the 2008 campaign and as a Philadelphia NOW chapter president got a lot of grief for supporting Obama rather than Clinton. I thought Obama would make the better president, but it also mattered more to me to elect first African-American president than to elect the first woman president. (I’m ready to make up for that feminist lapse (if that’s what it was) by working hard for Hillary in 2016.

But the euphoria I felt in January 2009 was also because I thought that just maybe the long backlash against the 1960’s—a backlash fuelled largely by rage against the dismantling of racial and gender hierarchy—was finally over. The Tea Party soon disabused me of that illusion.

I actually thought the backlash might have been over in 1992 which was the first and only Inauguration I ever attended. It seemed that Clinton’s presidency was the end of the conservative backlash of the Reagan/ Bush years but it turned out to be only an interregnum with the right returning for 8 horrendous years of George W. Bush.

The Republicans are hoping that Obama years will turn out to be a similar interregnum, but the country has changed too much. The party of the 1% managed to win elections by playing to people’s racial and cultural fears, thus getting them to vote against their own interest. Fewer people are buying their poison.

We may have finally turned a corner. The demographic changes in the country, the dramatic generational differences on issues such as racial and gender equality and same- sex marriage suggest the backlash may finally be over, or at least winding down.

Yes, we have the crazed Republican right but it is becoming increasingly marginalized, although thanks to partisan redistricting, anti-gay, anti- choice forces are in power in state legislatures across the country, determined to destroy the social safety net and enact the right wing social agenda. But these forces are becoming increasingly marginalized and can no longer win a national election. So just maybe, this time, my oft made prediction is finally coming true.

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